This week I’m going to the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association annual conference in DC. After the conference, I’ll post a recap of the sessions that I attend (including some on HBO’s Girls and BBC’s Doctor Who). But for this post, I’d like to tell you about what I’ll be presenting.
On Thursday morning, I will be presenting a paper about the ways that coming out story lines have been portrayed on Fox’s TV show Glee.
In my paper, I point out that coming out narratives on television have followed a few really narrow patterns and that those patterns have been harmful because 1) the plot often rests on the assumption that LGBT people are the minority (in both numbers and power), 2) the plot encourages viewers to make assumptions about a person’s sexuality based on their behavior, dress, speech patterns, etc, and 3) the plot suggests that in order for an LGBT person to be authentic, their sexuality must be made public.
I then go on to suggest that while Glee began from those tropes, it has moved passed them in some helpful ways. I claim that because of the number of people who come out on Glee and the way that Glee demonstrates that straight people must also negotiate their sexualities, Glee challenges the idea that LGBT sexualities or sexualities that come out are the minority. Secondly, because Glee demonstrates that everyone is constantly negotiating their behaviors and their sexualities, I assert that Glee challenges the idea that people can make assumptions about sexuality based only on appearance or behavior. Additionally, I suggest that Glee challenges the idea that LGBT sexualities must enter public space in a way that is different from the ways that heterosexual sexualities must enter public space.
In the end, I conclude that Glee offers a new message to audiences. Though it remains problematic in certain ways, I think Glee helpfully shows people that they do not have to conform to the sexual labels that others might assign to them. For everyone on Glee–not just LGBT individuals, and not even just teenagers–sexual labels (as well as a variety of other social labels) are constantly being challenged, accepted, rejected, and re-articulated. I find that a helpful and empowering message.
What do you think? Does Glee offer anything different than past depictions of coming out? Do you think Glee offers a helpful and/or empowering message?